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Good companies invest in skills

Doug Hunter, Manager: Professional Services, SYSPRO Africa
Doug Hunter, Manager: Professional Services, SYSPRO Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven accelerated digital transformation. Not only has this created greater demand for technical skills within businesses, it’s also created opportunities for employees to acquire new skills to fill new roles that have opened up within the organisation as a result of digitalisation and the drive towards the fourth industrial revolution, or 4IR.

Doug Hunter, Manager of Professional Services at SYSPRO, says good companies will always invest in their employees’ skills and developing people, regardless of what’s going on in the world at any given moment, pandemics included. “Not only do good businesses hire the right skills for the business’s current requirements, they also invest in new skills as the company’s needs change.”

Le’Anne Ponen, Manager: Education & User Enablement at SYSPRO, adds: “As companies transform and move to the cloud, it’s opened up a whole new box of skills that are in demand to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0, while COVID-19 has also unearthed a few skillsets that require sharpening, as well as huge demand for new skills. Ask any employees what they want from their employer and they’ll answer ‘skills training’. People want to acquire knowledge and grow, ensuring their future employability. Businesses that want to retain their best talent need to ensure they offer them the opportunity to reskill and upskill.”

Le’Anne Ponen, Manager Education & User Enablement], SYSPRO Africa.
Le’Anne Ponen, Manager Education & User Enablement], SYSPRO Africa.

However, with the pandemic, business education has taken a back seat. Because of the lockdown, some companies had to postpone their training programmes as the SETAs froze payments over this period. In addition, the lockdown regulations and social distancing requirements made it challenging to carry out classroom-based training, hence the shifted demand for online learning and e-learning as people came to terms with this new way of acquiring knowledge, says Ponen.

While working remotely, people have become more comfortable doing online meetings, which in turn has made them more comfortable with e-learning and online learning. Fear of retrenchment has also resulted in people wanting to improve their skills and, in so doing, render themselves a more valuable employee.

“While lockdown caused people to turn to online resources to improve their skills, the problem,” says Hunter, “is that some of the e-learning content is good, some of it is average and some of it is poor quality – and all three are usually riddled with advertising.”

Smart companies completely changed the nature of their business during COVID in order to survive. Restaurants and retailers had to offer online ordering and deliveries, manufacturers shifted their focus to personal protective equipment and delivery companies had to increase their capacity. Companies had to adapt to the environment that prevailed. And employees had to learn new skills on the fly.

“Companies are definitely still investing in their employees and looking to recruit the new skills they need arising out of the new ways of doing business, such as having to deal with e-commerce and skyrocketing orders, but we’re also seeing people trying to educate themselves to keep pace with the changing business to remain relevant in their roles, he explains.

Both technical and soft skills are in demand. Not only do employees have to understand the new technologies that come with the 4IR, they need to be able to function effectively as a team for the greater good. This is why, Hunter says, learning doesn’t just build human capital, it also builds organisational capital. “As employees learn their jobs and the system better, the more proficient they become in their individual roles and more efficiently they can collectively help the business run.”

Ponen agrees, adding: “It’s important to upskill staff so that they understand their role in the process that they’re in, where they fit in and how they contribute to the greater business. People have to understand what other colleagues are doing so they can think strategically and ultimately render better service to customers.”

If you can change the way your staff think and collaborate, they will help resolve issues and take ownership of those issues, instead of just referring them to a manager.

The benefits of having an upskilled workforce include:

Improved productivity and efficiency. Trained and knowledgeable employees spend less time on troubleshooting and more time on doing business.

Upskilling. Ensure your employees’ skillsets stay relevant and show your people you care about their careers and their futures. This boosts morale – employees who have training and development opportunities are happier in their roles and have a positive outlook on their future within the company. It also means you retain your best people. If you don’t provide them with meaningful training, they’ll go to someone who does.

Succession planning. You can attract, retain and develop future leaders through well-targeted skills development efforts.

Enable your talent management process by identifying key roles and mapping out ways to ensure the organisation has the right people with the right skills, capabilities and experiences, in the right place at the right time.

Safeguard your investment in new technology. While upgrading your technology is an investment in the future of your business, it’s just as important to remember that you need to empower your staff to use it in a way that is effective and engaging to them.

A well-trained team that has a solid understanding of technology can be confident that they can use the business’s hardware and software effectively

Nobody is clear on what training will look like as companies start to encourage their employees to return to the office. Remote workers have the time and space to upskill themselves; in an office environment, this might prove difficult. But Hunter is of the opinion that interactive learning platforms are going to grow, whether it is business-sanctioned learning or self-learning. Irrespective, he feels it’s important for employees to set aside time to continue to hone their skillsets, whether it be in the office or after hours at home.

Ponen concludes: “Employees should continue to seek out opportunities to upskill themselves using online platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that the appetite for learning is out there, so maintaining the momentum is key.”

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